South African Language Practitioner's Council Bill [B14-2013]: public hearings Day 1

Arts and Culture

20 August 2013
Chairperson: Ms T Sunduza (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African Translators Institute and Professional Editors Group highlighted several concerns about inconsistencies in the terminology and with certain definitions in the Bill. The functions of the Council and accreditation were given inadequate attention in the Bill. The submission saw problems in the composition of the proposed Board and felt the two-year period granted for the creation of Council and the accreditation of practitioners was seen to be too short.

A submission by Iliso Lokhozi highlighted the importance of the Bill and was supportive of its objectives. The organisation asked for timeframes for government to honour the implementation of the Bill.

The submission by the Health Science Faculty of the University of Cape Town highlighted the fact that South Africa South Africa still has no professional interpreting posts in health care – both for spoken and signed languages, although these were available in the justice system and in Parliament. The submission offered a view from the perspective of the consumer or user of an interpreter service. Dr Marion Heap said there were was a need for professional accredited South African Sign Language (SASL) interpreter services in health care and for accredited training for professional medical SASL interpreters.

Members interrogated the SATI submission on the terminology used, the experience of language practitioners and the accreditation process. They asked why they saw the composition of the envisaged board as problematic. Members asked Iliso Lokhozi about the cost implications of the Bill as well as the envisaged timeframe for its implementation and the constitution of the board. The statistic of 80% of health care consultations being carried out across language barriers was noted.

Meeting report

South African Translators Institute (SATI) and Professional Editors Group (PEG) joint submission
Prof Anne- Marie Beukes noted that the proposed South African Language Practitioner’s Council Bill was a watershed for the language-practice profession and emphasized the important role of language practitioners in the world. The employment of interpreters and translators was projected to increase by 22% between 2008 and 2018. There was a need for translation in Africa addressing the information inequality so that Africa might prosper. SATI was the only nonprofit professional organisation for language practitioners.

SATI and PEG felt that considerable work remained in refining the SALPC Bill as certain aspects had being given inadequate attention or ignored. Their main concerns were the following:
- There was an inconsistency in the terminology used and certain definitions used in the Bill needed to be amended as they did not reflect current practice.
- Certain objectives allocated to the Council were out of place.
- The functions of the Council referred to outdated educational structures and requirements.
- The whole matter of accreditation was given inadequate attention in the Bill.
- It was felt that a system of continuing professional development should be introduced as part of the accreditation system.
- SATI and PEG saw problems with the composition of the Board of the SALPC.
- It was felt that a single code of conduct for language practitioners was not suitable and it would be better suited to have a short generic code with related rules pertaining to different branches.
- The funding model needed to be spelled out clearly in legislation and the regulation of tariffs of practitioners was not addressed in the Bill.
- The Bill was not clear on the principles of registration and how registration was related to accreditation.
- The two-year period granted for the creation of the Council and introduction of accreditation was too short.

The Chairperson Ms Sunduza (ANC) noted that the submission presented by Prof Beukes was very interesting. She asked for clarity on where the uneducated translators in the community and rural areas would fit in as well as the sworn interpreters. Many South Africa’s indigenous languages were being diminished because of the younger generation wanting only to speak the English language.

Dr H van Schalkwyk (DA) noted that they wanted to promote a culture of multilingualism and asked to address the Committee in Afrikaans. He remarked that this would help make the Bill work on the ground.

Mr N van den Berg (DA) noted that language in South Africa was much politicised and it was very important as every individual loved his or her language. All the languages used were important and those used within a specific region even more so. This was an important Bill for our culture and it was necessary to protect our heritage. The language profession was one of the fastest growing in the world today and he cited that a growth of 10% was huge and this could create employment opportunities. He emphasised that language in South Africa had contributed towards reconciliation and nation building.

Mr Ntshiqela (COPE) asked why SATI preferred the term text editor too language editor. He asked how language practitioners who were not members of SATI were going to be accredited. He noted that the experience of language practitioners had to be taken into consideration when accreditation was being granted. He asked how they arrived at the projected 22 % increase in the growth of employment of translators and interpreters.

Mr D Mavunda (ANC) asked for the reasons why SATI was concerned that the Minister would be designating the members of the Council. On the importance of accreditation, he asked for more clarity on the need for different levels of accreditation to be introduced and more clarity on what the “grandfather” clause meant.

Ms Marlene Rose, a translator and editor working in the private sector, requested the Portfolio Committee to designate the work of Indexer to be a separate profession.

Prof Beukes responded to the Members' questions. On the Chairperson’s question about how one would define the notion of a professional language practitioner as opposed to a natural language practitioner who was not trained, she said that with a translator or interpreter they emphasize that knowledge and skills were imparted to them and they try to strike a balance in this way. Both these skills were necessary in a person claiming to be a professional language practitioner. The profession was a Cinderella profession with no protection for us and the public.
Prof Beukes said SATI aimed to train the professional language practitioners through teaching those skills and knowledge so that they were able to do their job. In 1991 SATI changed the membership category into two membership categories open to all people wanting to translate in response to the natural translators. The criteria for the accreditation of translators were changed with these two categories. The first category of members was open to all members that had experience and there was no prerequisite qualification for the natural translator. SATI also had its “backyard mechanics” in the industry who abused our public by charging high rates and performing inferior work. SATI would like to make their industry more professional and elevate the quality of their natural translators thereby protecting those people being used in the industry.

On the composition of the Council, Prof Beukes stated that the composition of the envisaged board was problematic and was weighted to heavily with bureaucrats and government officials. Instead the board should have grassroots representation of translators on the ground. Another important issue for the Language Council would be to raise the awareness of using non-professionals in our society.

She said that this Bill would be a prerequisite for the successful implementation of the Official Languages Act and she could not imagine the two acts not piggy backing on one another. The introduction of this legislation was part of the prescription in the current national language framework for a national language policy published in 2003 and its implementation plan published in 2003. The establishment of such a Council was literally prescribed by the language policy. We were all looking forward to the implementation of a full language policy based on the use of the Official Languages Act and based on the ramifications of the South African Language Practitioners Council Bill, the two could not be isolated. We could not expect to introduce multilingualism in this country if we do not have professionals who we could call to book if they fail and that was what this council needs to have.

Prof Beukes agreed with Mr van den Berg about the complete lack of awareness of people in South Africa about the role of language as an economic driver. The medium of translation and interpretation was taken for granted by people.

On why the notion of text editor and not language editor was used it was simply because it had become a worldwide convention in the jargon that one used. In her view the term language editor distracted from the generic function of a text editor who could work in several genres of text.

Prof Beukes responded to the question on the involvement of language practitioners, saying that they could not only have bureaucrats involved in the board and they appealed to the Minister to have grassroots representation from the people on the ground who knew the profession and the language.

She explained that lexicographers were not included - though in her opinion they should be included - but there was a sentiment that they should not be included as they worked in a more secure corporate environment for the national lexicography unit under world trends.

On how experience could be assessed, Prof Beukes stated experience showed when a person was asked to do a particular task. Competency was all about the knowledge and skills of a person’s job. All accreditation exercises consist of a set of exercises in the form of a test that a prospective accreditee must translate which was able to measure whether the person could do the job competently. The standard of the test would show if the person understood the knowledge and skills required for the work. SATI assessed if they were fully competent in their knowledge and skill of the job.

Replying on how SATI had arrived at the projected 22% increase in growth in the translating and interpreting industry, Prof Beukes referred to the trends in the United States Bureau of Labour Statistics yearly report based on the number of registrations of language practitioners and the demand in the market place.

On the role of the Minister appointing the members of the Board, she said SATI believed that it was a fair principle of democracy that the Board would have the power to appoint its own members and leaders through a rigorous selection process.

On the question why levels of accreditation were so important in the Language Practitioners profession, Prof Beukes concluded that a level of accreditation was a measure of the complexity of the job being done. It was literally a universal practice that there were various levels of complexity and competency.

On the concern about the lack of recognition for SATI, she noted that SATI had played a prominent role in the field of translation since 1956. SATI was the only body accrediting and it started this process in 1991.SATI had a range of experience and its accreditation method was based on the American Translators Association (ATA). The organisation wanted to share its experience of working in a very complex and difficult industry with government .The organisation currently had an accreditation committee working on an accreditation system. SATI would love to join hands with the Department which was the executive arm of government in language matters in the journey of creating this Council.

She explained the reference to the grandfather clause, saying SATI believed that setting up an accreditation system could not take only two years; they had been doing it for thirty years. They felt two years was a little ambitious and they proposed it would take longer to build up an accreditation system and they were prepared to work with the Department on this.

Responding to the suggestion from Ms Marlene Rose that the job of indexing should be considered as a profession, Prof Beukes stated that this would be taken into consideration when the Bill was revised.

Iliso Lokhozi submission on South African Language Practitioner’s Council Bill [B14-2013]
Mr Xolisa Tshongolo highlighted the important points of the submission:
- Iliso LoKhozi fully supported the Bill and its implementation was long overdue.
- The process of recommendations and implementation of national languages had cost implications which led to reluctance on the part of government to do what was necessary.
- The Bill would give Language Practitioners and their profession the dignity they deserve.
- A time frame for government to honour the implementation of this Bill should be inserted.

The Chairperson thanked Iliso Lokhozi for their submission and noted how passionate about language Prof Neville Alexander had been.

The Chairperson requested more clarity about the proposed time frames for the implementation of the Bill and asked Iliso Lokhozi to submit this in writing to the Committee.

Mr Ntshiqela (COPE) thanked the presenter and suggested they should be named the eyes and ears of the eagle. The organisation should stay in touch with government should they come up with more suggestions.

Ms L Moss (ANC) noted that the presenter had outlined the importance of this piece of legislation and the role of people who had shaped it. On the issue of implementation, the government was creating a lot of policies and legislation but when it came to implementation, they got stuck. The excuses were that there were not enough funds to implement. The Director General, Deputy Director General and manager’s duty was to implement those policies so that they could see the results.

Ms Msweli (IFP) noted the concerns about a lack of sufficient funding for the implementation and referred to the Medium Term Expenditure Framework which should cover all the costs of the Bill. They were the watchdogs and the previously disadvantaged languages were not always "taken through" because of the cost implications.

Ms Msweli asked what they thought as an organisation would accelerate the cause of disadvantaged languages.

Ms T Nwamitwa-Shilubana (ANC) thanked the presenter for his robust presentation and questioned why he only mentioned and praised people who happened to be male. Was there any reason for him to discriminate against women because there were many women who had participated in the struggle? Her plea to him was to give recognition to the women.

Mr van den Berg (DA) thanked the Mr Tshongolo for his submission. He was very glad that so many languages were participating because the history of South Africa was so full of language clashes in which people told each other what to do with their language. He asked that language practitioners follow this Bill in the corridors of parliament like the eyes of a hawk because this was their Bill and it would protect their rights long after these Members had died. He agreed with the chairperson that everyone should take ownership of this Bill to make it succeed.

Mr Tshongolo replied about the length of the timeframe, saying they agreed with a period of two years after which the board should be constituted and running however this should be adhered to.

Mr Tshongolo noted the advice that the name of his organisation should be the Eyes and the Ears of the Eagle and he would take the suggestion back. He added that there should be some kind of monitoring and oversight on the implementation of this Bill. All the disadvantaged languages should be granted equal opportunity and whenever someone wanted to speak their own language an interpreter should be provided for without any excuse about costs. Government could not make a language an official language where the people were not able to use it. This would create a situation where the language was merely an officially suppressed language.

Mr Tshongolo stated that he had recited a poem which was dedicated to the struggle of all the women heroines in South Africa. He respected the words of Mr van den Berg and other committee members that every language practitiones should take personal ownership of this Bill.

Health and Human Rights Programme: Health Science Faculty, University of Cape Town submission
Dr Marion Heap highlighted the fact that South Africa still had no professional interpreting posts in health care, for both spoken and signed languages. She drew attention to:
- The urgent need for professional accredited South African Sign Language (SASL) interpreter services in health care.
- The equally urgent need for an accredited training for professional medical SASL interpreters.

The submission used the findings of a long term project that aimed to address language barriers in health care for deaf people. A pilot research project was evaluating a model health district based free-to-patient professional SASL interpreter service in health care.

In South Africa, up to 80% of consultations in health care were carried out across language barriers and the consequences for health as a result of miscommunication were serious.

Dr Heap concluded that professional interpreting services in health care was a public health issue and the interpreting needs of deaf people were urgent. The South African Health Act, on the issue of languages stated that: “The health care provider concerned must, where possible, inform the user…in a language that the user understands and in a manner which takes into account the user’s level of literacy”. The phrase "where possible" hds, however, been the escape phrase for government up to now.

To address the problem of lack of formal interpreter training, the Health and Human Rights Programme of the School of Public Health and Family Medicine commenced a pilot two-year training programme for medical SASL interpreters in January 2010. The project aimed for accredited training courses approved by the South Africa Qualification Authority (SAQA).

Dr van Schalkwyk (DA) stated that they fully agreed with the presenter.

Mr van den Berg noted that what had been said about the medical profession was relevant to so many other organisations.

Mr Ntshiqela (Cope) asked for more clarity on the figure of 80% of consultations in health care was carried out across language barriers.

Dr Heap replied these types of figures were global percentages and the actual consultations in professional health care were very uneven. She believed that the patient should always be able to get their medicine and health care in their own language which was usually one's first language.

The Chairperson thanked Dr Heap for her submission. She noted that the Committee would hear more submissions the next day and then deliberate on them.

The meeting was then adjourned.

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